Safety Signs and Signals

Last reviewed on 18/04/2013 11:38

This page gives advice on the importance of Safety Signs and Signals, where they should be displayed or heard, and the meanings of common sign features.

You will also find details of legal duties and obligations relating to Signs and Signals, and links to further information.

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Why are Safety Signs and Signals important?

Safety Signs and Signals are one of the main means of communicating health and safety information.

This includes the use of illuminated signs, hand and acoustic signals (e.g. fire alarms), spoken communication and the marking of pipework containing dangerous substances.

Traditional signboards, such as prohibition and warning signs, signs for fire exits, Fire Action Plan notices (fire drills) and fire-fighting equipment are also considered to be Safety Signs.

In view of their importance, it is critical that all Safety Signs and Signals can be easily understood.


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Legal duties and obligations around Signs and Signals

The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 These regulations require employers to provide specific Safety Signs whenever there is a risk that has not been avoided or controlled by other means, e.g. by engineering controls and safe systems of work.

Where a Safety Sign would not help to reduce that risk, or where the risk is not significant, there is no need to provide a Sign.

There are specific requirements for the shape, colour and pattern of Safety Signs.

Any sign must contain a symbol or pictogram and be of a specified colour which clearly defines its meaning.

Supplementary text may also be used to aid understanding, but text-only signs are not permitted.

For more information on standard designs features and their meanings, see the summary of Sign types.

Where Signs are used employers must ensure:

  • signs are maintained. Any defective or faded signs should be replaced.
  • explain unfamiliar signs to employees to ensure they understand the meaning and actions to be taken in connection with them.

The Regulations apply to all places and activities where people are employed, but exclude signs and labels used in connection with the supply of substances, products and equipment or the transport of dangerous goods.

To view the full text of the above legislation online, please follow the links under Legislation.


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Fire Safety Signs

Advice on the use of Fire Safety Signs can be obtained from your enforcing authority for fire safety (e.g. your local Fire and Rescue Service).

In general, the Regulations will not require any changes where existing Fire Safety Signs containing symbols comply with BS 5499:Part 1:1990 Fire Safety Signs, notices and graphic symbols (perhaps in order to comply with the requirements of a fire certificate).

This is because the signs in BS 5499, although different in detail to those specified in the Regulations, follow the same basic pattern and are therefore considered to comply with the Regulations.

For more information on fire safety, visit our topic page on Fire.


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Good practice around Safety Signs and Signals:

  • road traffic signs must be used where necessary, to regulate road traffic within the workplace
  • specific types of sign should be used in dangerous locations e.g. where there is a risk of slipping, falling from height, or where there is low headroom
  • ensure employees use the standard hand signals for directing vehicles and for dangerous manoeuvres (see video of Banksman's Signals (external site))
  • Safety Signs should be provided where necessary to warn of hazards, to prevent dangerous practices, and to indicate safe exit routes and safe practices
  • ensure all Fire Safety Signs and other Safety Signs comply with current regulations
  • ensure all text or word signs are replaced with pictogram signs (with text where necessary)
  • ensure all employees understand the meaning of the signs displayed and the actions to be taken.


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Summary of Sign types

Colour: Red

  • Meaning or Purpose: Prohibition/Danger Alarm
  • Instruction and Information: Dangerous behaviour; stop; shutdown; emergency cut-out devices; evacuate
  • Intrinsic Features: Round shape; black pictogram on white background; red edging and diagonal line; red part to be at least 35% of the area of the sign

Colour: Yellow or Amber

  • Meaning or Purpose: Warning
  • Instruction and Information: Be careful; take precautions; examine
  • Intrinsic Features: Triangular shape; black pictogram on yellow background with black edging; yellow part to be at least 50% of the area of the sign

Colour: Blue

  • Meaning or Purpose: Mandatory
  • Instruction and Information: Specific behaviour or action, e.g. wear personal protective equipment
  • Intrinsic Features: Round shape; white pictogram on blue background; blue part to be at least 50% of the area of the sign

Colour: Green

  • Meaning or Purpose: Emergency escape; first aid; No danger
  • Instruction and Information: Doors; exits; escape routes equipment and facilities Return to normal
  • Intrinsic Features: Rectangular or square shape; white pictogram on green background; green part to be at least 50% of the area of the sign

Colour: Red (Fire-fighting signs)

  • Meaning or Purpose: Fire-fighting equipment
  • Instruction and Information: Identification and location
  • Intrinsic Features: Rectangular or square shape; white pictogram on red background; red part to be at least 50% of the area of the sign


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Further information on Safety Signs and Signals

Banksman's Signals (external site) This online video presentation from the Health and Safety Executive demonstrates standard hand signals for vehicle manoeuvres and lifting operations.

Priced Safety Signs and Signals guidance from the Health and Safety Executive Note – all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to order these resources:

Safety signs and signals. The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996. Guidance on Regulations L64 (external site)

British Standards The following standards can be downloaded or ordered online from British Standards Online (external site):


→ View The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 (external site).


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